A new movie version of Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance’s acclaimed and controversial 2016 memoir, is set for release on Netflix on Nov. 24. It’s directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard and stars Golden Globe winners Glenn Close and Amy Adams. The streaming service released a new trailer today.
The book received a Kirkus Star and was a Kirkus Prize finalist. In it, National Review contributor Vance recounts growing up poor in Ohio in the 1980s and ’90s. His troubled single mother struggled with addiction, and he was raised by his grandparents, who came from Appalachian Kentucky. During his upbringing, he saw the effects of alcoholism and domestic violence but also had a loyal, loving grandmother, Mamaw, who encouraged him toward greater success in life. He later graduated from Yale Law School and became a wealthy venture capitalist. Over the course of the memoir, he also strongly critiques “hillbilly” culture, which he characterizes as fostering a lack of personal responsibility and a poor work ethic.
Vance’s book was critically lauded—Kirkus’ reviewer called it an “unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class”—and it became a bestseller. However, its sociological conclusions also drew a great deal of criticism. For example, the Kirkus-starred 2019 book Appalachian Reckoning, edited by academics Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, features essays, poems, and photos by writers and thinkers that “deem Hillbilly a biased work reinforcing stereotypes of the region’s people,” according to Kirkus’ review. Several contributors point out that “systemic societal problems—not only personal choice and accountability—help shape regional life,” our reviewer noted.
Adams plays Vance’s mother, Bev, in the new film, and Close plays Mamaw, with Gabriel Basso as the young Vance. Vanessa Taylor, who was nominated for an Oscar for her screenplay for the 2017 film The Shape of Water, adapted the memoir for the screen; she previously adapted Veronica Roth’s 2011 dystopian YA bestseller, Divergent.
David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.